How in the world do you characterize Troy Carter? The real life Fresh Prince, West Philly born and raised, mentee of Will Smith and Diddy? The visionary manager behind Eve, Lady Gaga, John Legend and Meghan Trainor? (It was, after all, Carter who went over the heads of the entertainment industrial complex by connecting the then-unknown Gaga directly to an audience via social media.) The visionary venture capitalist with early stakes in game-changing disruptive companies like Uber, Lyft, Dropbox and Spotify, where he was global head of creator services?
The founder and CEO of his latest venture — Q&A, a technology and media company focused on powering the business of music via distribution, services and data analytics? Or is he the school voucher activist who helped found One Way Out, a coalition of strange bedfellows that, earlier this year, took on the Herculean task of lobbying state government to pass school voucher legislation, falling just short?
Carter is a uniquely credible messenger at the intersection of education and opportunity. His is a story about the powers of resilience and reinvention. At 17, his father behind bars for murder, Carter dropped out of West Philly High, his head filled with rap dreams. He started hanging outside the studios of DJ Jazzy Jeff until, one day, Will Smith invited him in from the cold. That day, Smith drove Carter home and told his mother: “I’ve got him.” While Carter’s rap talent came up short, he became Smith’s personal assistant. He went on to do the same for Diddy, after a unique job interview. “See that girl behind the bar?” Diddy said. “Get her for me and you’re hired.”
“Educated kids don’t want to commit crimes. And if we want to get at root causes, we have to educate kids.” — Troy Carter
Soon, Carter discovered fellow Philadelphian Eve and managed her to rap stardom. When she fired him, he was devastated. When Smith’s partner, James Lassiter, cut him off because his “head had gotten too big,” Carter found himself unemployed and on the verge of eviction. That’s when he met a struggling artist named Stefani Germanotta, who he helped turn into Lady Gaga. After a painful split up with Gaga — “Nothing wakes you up like cold concrete.” — Carter reinvented himself, this time as a tech investor and a de facto bridge between the artists of Los Angeles and the techies of Silicon Valley.
Music, to tech, to eds
In years past, music impresarios defined themselves by what they heard; A&R guys were all about predicting hits. Carter’s visionary skill set is more about what he sees, such as the intersection of seemingly disparate technologies: pop songs with streaming music services, for instance, and he’s smartly invested on both sides of that equation. He’s built a net worth of $30 million out of a penchant, forged on the streets of West Philly, for bouncing back, for reinvention, and for sensing what’s next. Which brings us to his latest passion project.
“I can’t understand for the life of me how, because you live in a certain zip code or you’re born in a certain zip code, you have to go to this shitty school in your neighborhood,” he says. “That’s messed up.”
So Carter has plunged headfirst into the education wars, pledging fealty not to any ideology, but to doing right by the kid he once was. Education in Philly, he says, is on life support — and too few have a sense of urgency about it. “Educated kids don’t want to go to jail,” he has said. “Educated kids don’t want to commit crimes. And if we want to get at root causes, we have to educate kids.”
At The Citizen’s 6th annual Ideas We Should Steal Festival presented by ComcastNBCUniversal, Carter and I will explore his past and his vision for the future, as well as his roadmap for making real change in the lives of Philadelphia schoolchildren.
Meet Troy Carter at the 2023 Ideas We Should Steal Festival presented by Comcast NBCUniversal
Friday, November 17
Ralph J Roberts Forum at Comcast Technology Center | 1800 Arch Street, Philadelphia
MORE SPEAKERS AT THE 2023 IDEAS WE SHOULD STEAL FESTIVALTroy Carter, courtesy of Troy Carter.